Pakistan is one of my favorite countries. The people couldn’t be more different from me culturally, but they are open and inviting. Every person I meet shakes my hand warmly and smiles, from guards armed with MP5s to drivers, hotel staff, friends and co-workers. Pakistan is hot, dusty and violent, a country at war.
Meanwhile, the girls slip into the cool ocean of Phuket, Thailand where they will spend the week. We have split up because, for obvious reasons, Pakistan is not a safe place for family travel (yet.)
I have the better end of this deal. The girls suffer at the resort without me.
Gorging on Pakistani food
Confession here. For all they hype about China being one of the great cuisines of the world, I didn’t enjoy the food much. I completely admit that a) we didn’t get to the right restaurants b) we didn’t get to eat in the Chinese style with lots of dishes and c) we didn’t know what to order.
But in most countries, I accidentally have a few things that are fabulous. With total honesty, it’s hard to pick a dish I ate that I would eagerly eat again. (I don’t like American-Chinese either, for the record.)
In 2006, I went to Pakistan and stayed at the world class Serena Hotel for a few nights. The Serena was opulent and empty. One of my most memorable travel experiences came as I arrived.
Completely jetlagged, I was starving, and decided to get room service at 2am. In a travel daze I gorged on authentic northern Indian/Pakistani food for the first time.
The glop passed as Indian/Pakistani in most places is pretty awful. The real thing, prepared well, is really a treat for the taste buds.
I went for the same experience again on my first day this week and was not left wanting. My guest house served me a late night pilou (biryani) and a chicken with tomato and cilantro dish that was spicy, rich and oily. Amazing!
I had a great week seeing the staff. It’s such a difficult place to work and they do it so well.
Meanwhile back in Phuket
Trish was originally going to go to Koh Tao so she could Scuba dive. But it was expeisive, and took quite a long time to get there. I suggested that she look instead for a place in Phuket, which is an ancient tourist mecca. She found a great deal at the five-pool JW Marriot.
And they would need every pool this week, because with monsoon season, this part of Thailand has really nasty undertow. I guess this is why it’s so cheap. And of course it rained everyday.
Sounds horrible, right? It was more fun being in Islamabad, right? Hardly. They had the time of their lives.
China was great but hard. The kids ate very little of their favorite things. But in a Marriot they could order ‘American Pancakes and Pizza!’ Emma says with a crazy grin. And although the pool at the Beijing Hyatt was beautiful, it was still indoors. It was nice to be outside.
Most of all, the girls got a break from us and each other. They each found friends of their own age quickly, from Singapore, Australia, and USA. We love being a family on the road, but it’s good to get a break from each other once in a while.
A future scuba diver?
Most unexpectedly, Lily did a snorkel and liked it. She has always been very afraid of Fish (and bugs, and reptiles, and storms, and airplanes) but she does try to get over it. (Remember the glubs in Mexico? And the microlight in Dunhuang?)
After jumping in she panicked and scrambled out. But without any coaching or prompting from Trish, she got back in and LOVED IT. Trish and I are avid scuba divers, and I have always wondered if Lily would ever join us underwater. (There is no doubt Emma will.)
Someday she might.
This was the intermission of our adventure: me, working in Pakistan, Trish and the girls, enjoying every minute of Phuket. Up next is Cambodia and then more Thailand before we pack our smelly bags and head home. Go grab more snow-caps and ju-ju bees because the second part is going to be thrilling!